State Basketball -- St. Anthony Wins Title 2016-17


Published on November 17 2020 9:29 am
Last Updated on November 18 2020 1:32 pm
Written by Millie Lange

St. Anthony with their medals at the Class 1A State Tournament.

Every high school basketball coach dreams about winning a State Championship.

Cody Rincker’s dream came true during the 2016-17 boys basketball season at Effingham St. Anthony High School when the Bulldogs claimed the Class 1A State crown.

His 2015-16 team got beat in the sectional the year before and came back stronger to enter the gym at Peoria ready to win a title.

“This certain team had the talent and potential and showed signs of being great in freshman/sophomore ball, junior varsity ball and during the summer in 2016,” said Rincker. “We were beat in the sectional final in 2016 by Patoka, the team we would eventually rematch with in 2017. That loss and the loss of some excellent seniors in 2016 motivated and fueled the 2017 team. The only difference really was the ability to make big plays when big plays were needed.”

The Bulldogs played a tough schedule that only helped get them ready.

“We defeated Breese Central in the turkey tourney, and showed a lot of toughness and determination to beat a Class 3A team in the afternoon following a hard-fought rivalry game with EHS the night before.

“The next big game was defeating Robinson at Robinson by 17. Robinson had finished second that year in the Turkey Tourney and was a really good team. To beat them on the road in significant fashion showed the potential this team had.

“We defeated Pana two times in three days to come away with the school’s second Vandalia Holiday Tourney victory in five years.

“Another moment that stands out is the fact we had to reschedule the Mater Dei game due to ice. This game was rescheduled for the Tuesday after the NTC Tourney and before Teutopolis that Friday. It set up a stretch of games that really tested our mental and emotional toughness. We managed the first three games just fine, but really struggled in the latter two.

“I think this stretch of games really prepared us to play two weeks of competition constantly improving and even though we lost in significant fashion to both Mater Dei and T-town, we learned how to approach those types of games more effectively in the future.”

The Bulldogs ran the gauntlet of a tough schedule facing Champaign St. Thomas More, Effingham, Breese Central, Robinson, Breese Mater Dei, Teutopolis and Altamont in the turkey tournament.

Although they had a tough schedule, the Bulldogs learned how to find the balance between fun and taking care of business.

“Probably like most teams they had a certain order they had to play their pregame and postgame music in,” said Rincker. “And they were a very close group, while no story in particular stands out or superstitions, they just overall were a group that was easy to get along with and had a great understanding for what it took to be successful.”

The Bulldogs had to beat Woodlawn by two points to win the super-sectional. Although before that they had to take on Altamont for the third time that season in sectional action and won 53-44. The Indians led 31-30 going into the final quarter before the Bulldogs pulled it out.

“I think that group never lacked confidence,” said Rincker. “They had put in so much work in the off-season and during the season that they trusted their preparation and knew they created good habits. I think the comeback did help grow that confidence in their ability to make big plays when they needed and to trust each other even more.”

Once the Bulldogs made it to the State Tournament, how did they keep their calm and focus?

“We tried to treat it as just another road trip. Obviously, it wasn’t, but we enjoyed the media stuff and tried to get as many shots up in the arena in the 45 minute practice they allotted each team.

“But as soon as that was over we went and found a gym to practice for another two hours. This would have been our typical routine all season. I felt like having that type of regular season practice would help keep the focus on the game and responsibilities, as opposed to the joy of just being there. I’m not sure if it helped, but I do feel like they played the same way they had played all year in those two games.”

First up for the Bulldogs was Chicago Hope Academy. St. Anthony claimed a 43-34 win and that took them to the championship game against Okawville where they had to go overtime to pull out a 49-46 victory for the title.

“It was a great moment for the team and the community,” said Rincker. “To win in overtime is just how every young basketball player imagines it. Hitting the game winner in overtime.

“Okawville had a great team and is a great basketball school. To compete against them in the way we did was very rewarding. Throughout the game we had control. It wasn’t until about halfway through the fourth that Okawville made their run and took the lead 40-39.

“Gibby (Drew Gibson) came right back and hit a jumper to go up 41-40 and the score ended up tied at 41. Our guys held the ball that final minute and 30 seconds of regulation and Drew had a shot to win that just bounced off.

“In overtime we got down by three on a three-pointer. We returned with two straight buckets by Adam Levitt. We fell asleep defensively and allowed another bucket from Okawville. That set up the moment where Gibby hit the final field goal of the game to go up 47-46. 

“We ended up fouling them with five seconds left. We called a timeout to try and ice the shooter. He missed his first and Drew came up with the rebound. He made his free throws and the rest is history as we won, 49-46.”

Coach Rincker talked about his players.

“This was a great team. We only had one senior and while he was a great leader, the leadership role was ultimately shared by many. Drew Gibson, Cade Walsh, Alex Deters, Adam Levitt, Alex Beesley and Jack Nuxoll, these six played a majority of the crucial minutes. They all were solid in every facet of the game.

“Gibby was our leading scorer and go-to player, Deters and Nuxoll were our fast, athletic wings that guarded the best perimeter players while also being opportunistic for their scoring chances. Adam Levitt and Alex Beesley played more of the post role. They both were excellent rebounders and team defenders and Adam at times would be asked to guard a great versatile scorer and was always ready for the challenge.

“Brandon Runge, Wyatt Lawrence, Luke Ludwig, these three were our role guys that always provided a spark of some sort, whether it was to make a timely shot, put back from an offensive rebound, taking a charge or simply not turning the ball over. They were ready to handle the situation.

“Bryson Wall, Ben Strullmyer, Quinton Milleville and Jaccob Dust rounded out the team. These guys saw limited action, but were huge role guys in practice. They ensured the top group were always ready and challenged them to work every day in practice. This competition daily in practice, was so crucial to what this team was able to achieve.”

St. Anthony tallied its most wins in a season and finished with a 30-5 record.

“This was a great accomplishment and truly a season I will never forget,” said Rincker. “But, most importantly, I’ll never forget the true comradery this team had, the joy they got out of playing a game to the best of their ability, and the collective determination from the group at all times (not just games).

“It showed in practice as freshmen and sophomores, in open gyms, summer games and it was all the time. Their competitive spirit was incredible.

“Also, the joy that the community got from watching them, the excitement in the younger grades as they witnessed the accomplishment was a very rewarding feeling as well and one that I feel very fortunate and humbled to be a part of.”

And, Coach Rincker really got to celebrate in style as the championship victory came on his birthday!